Online learning means distance is no longer an obstacle for young farmers looking to complete Green Cert

Farmers are embracing distance learning courses. File Photo
Farmers are embracing distance learning courses. File Photo

Siobhán English

Studying in Ireland full-time was never an option for John Morley as he commuted between his home in Mayo and his London office.

Thankfully the introduction of the online Green Cert course by Westport College of Further Education has now enabled him to continue his career in property across the water, while also gaining a qualification that will be useful on the farm at home in years to come.

"Only for the online course I would not have been able to get my Green Cert at all," the 34-year-old says.

For the past number of years, John has been dividing his time between the UK and Ballyhaunis, where his wife and young children reside. He works from home on Mondays and flies out each Tuesday morning from Knock. He returns home on a Friday night.

John's father Dominic runs a suckler herd, as well as some dry stock, and his son was keen to obtain the certificate with a view to one day possibly forming a partnership on the farm.

"My father is still very active, but you never know what might happen down the line if I decided to move home altogether," says John.

His brother Tomas has recently joined the cadets, and does not intend pursuing a career on the farm.

John started the course last spring and is hoping to graduate in September. He attends classes via his laptop from his apartment in London twice a week and only needs to go into the college occasionally for exams and practicals.

Also Read

"If I was at home full-time I would waste a lot of time driving to and from Westport. This way there is no travel involved, and you just need to be committed to attend the class from wherever you are in the world," he says.

At one stage, he even completed an exam while on a work trip to the Far East.

When he is not working in London, John thoroughly enjoys his time on the farm.

Last week he took a few days off to help out with the silage harvesting.

"We were just lucky to get it done in the fine weather and start spreading slurry too before the heavy rain came," he says.

Claremorris-based Dominic Lowry completed the online Green Cert course at the Westport College of Further Education last year with a view to possibly forming a partnership with his father, Dominic Snr, in time to come.

"I am self-employed with my own business and would not have been able to do this course otherwise," says the 31-year-old, who graduated last year.

"The college is over 40 minutes from me and I wouldn't have had time to drive there a few times a week. Some of my work takes me out of the county and while away I was able to attend classes from the comfort of my hotel."

As with other students doing the online course, Dominic only had to attend the college every few weeks for exams and practicals.

While the online course allowed him some freedom, Dominic stresses that you need to be fully committed to ensure all projects are completed on time.

"When you attend the classes via the internet the teachers make sure you are interacting and go out of their way to help. There is a good bit of work involved so it's not possible to try and get out of it," he says.

Dominic's father farms approximately 50 sucklers, but is nearing retirement age, and his son will have to think hard about the future.

"I would love to go farming full-time, but it is just not possible with a young family. There would not be enough income to support us all," Dominic explains.

"Farming is not easy and there are so many men and women out there who have to work outside the farm as well.

"Thankfully the electrical business is good, so if I do ever go farming full-time I will have to look at other ways of making it work."

'Major surge' in Green Cert applications

Since it was introduced last year, interest in the online Green Cert Course at Westport CFE has increased dramatically and only a handful of places now remain for the 2018-19 term.

"There has been a major surge in applications in the past fortnight and we expect to have about 190 students altogether," said college principal Michael Murphy.

There are only 10 places available for the distance learning course on Wednesday and Thursday evenings. Online classes for Mondays and Tuesdays are now full, but there are a few places left for the classroom version.

The concept of the online course grew from an enquiry to Westport CFE from the development company on Clare Island off Louisburgh, Co Mayo, on how eight students could best access the college's Green Cert course.

"The teachers going out to provide the course on the island, or the students coming into Westport, didn't work with the ferry times," Mr Murphy said.

It was then proposed that the classes could be streamed live on the internet to the eight students. This solution worked so well that 12 more students on the mainland enrolled for the online classes.

This year the college has around 100 students doing the Green Cert online, being almost doubled for 2018-19. The classes will take place two nights a week and last for three hours. There are 60 classes in total over the 30-week term. They must attend the college in person for exams and practicals up to half a dozen times during the year.

The online course is particularly popular with people with farming backgrounds working full-time in Ireland, with a number also attending from overseas.

"We have a lot of teachers, as well as members of the Gardaí and accountants. They would find it difficult to attend class during the day, so the online version is ideal," Mr Murphy said.

In recent years, farming partnerships have become more popular. A FETAC Level 6 Advanced Certificate in Agriculture or equivalent is the required education standard for registering a partnership.

At Westport students will first study modules as part of the QQI/FETAC Agriculture Level 5 before going on to study for Level 6 in the same year. Modules include Crop Production Science, Sheep Production, Farm Management and Farm Business Planning.

The cost of the course is €1,990. Further information on dates and availability is available on

Indo Farming